MADRID, Spain – A Romanian immigrant who fell on hard times set himself on fire Tuesday to dramatize his plea for money to return home, writhing in agony as flames consumed his clothes and skin and his wife and children watched helplessly.
The 44-year-old man, whose name was not released, suffered burns to 70 percent of his body in the self-immolation outside a Spanish Interior Ministry building in the eastern city of Castellon near Valencia, Castellon social welfare director Carmen Amoros said.
Spanish television ran horrific footage of the man on fire after dousing himself with gasoline and igniting it with a lighter. Flames first consumed his white soccer jersey and then crept downward to burn away his pants as he screamed and rolled on the pavement.
Two police officers tried to swat out the fire and eventually ripped away what remained of his trousers, then led him away stumbling and naked.
The man's daughter, identified only as Isabella, said the family had come to Spain three months ago with a promise of work and housing but both turned out to be bogus, the national news agency Efe reported. They got by collecting scrap metal and selling soft drinks on the beach, she said.
She said they eventually amassed enough money for air fare home, but were swindled when they tried to buy tickets, according to Efe.
Police referred to them social services, who in turn referred them to the Red Cross and in the end no one helped, the girl was quoted as saying.
Amoros said the man showed up at a social services office Monday asking how to get aid to buy airline tickets and was referred to a non-governmental organization because city hall has no power to provide such assistance.
The family has been placed in a shelter in Valencia, where the father has been hospitalized, she said.